Every few weeks, a new study about e-cigarettes seems to surface. As far as public opinion is concerned, e-cigarette studies usually fall into one of two categories. One rough body of research suggests that vaping—sucking on an electronic cigarette or vaporizer—is a mostly safe way to help people quit smoking tobacco and save millions of lives. Another body of research warns that e-cigarettes are filled with hazardous chemicals that could be just as bad as lighting up a cig.
The reality, of course, is more complicated. (Quitting smoking and starting to vape are different scenarios, and not the only ways to consider the health differences between cigarettes and e-cigarettes).
But the research is starting to coalesce around this point: Puffing on sweet clouds of vapor is much less harmful than choking on tobacco, and can be very helpful for smokers looking to quit, according to a new report published in the Annual Review of Public Health.
Penned by David Abrams, Ph.D., a professor of social and behavioral sciences at New York University’s College of Global Public Health, the article cites studies that show if a majority of smokers in the U.S. changed from cigarette-smoking to vaping over the next 10 years, more than 6 million people would escape an early death and more than 86 million fewer years of life would be lost. The report also notes that e-cigs make up a “sweet spot” in helping people stop smoking, since e-cigarettes have a high satisfaction rate but are also (relatively) low-harm.
“A smoker who finds an e-cigarette that is enjoyable can switch,” said Abrams. “Successful switchers have either switched quickly or slowly after a period of both vaping and cutting back on smoking, and by trying a flavor other than tobacco.
“Alternative nicotine delivery systems, such as e-cigarettes, have the potential to disrupt the 120-year dominance of the cigarette and challenge the field on how the tobacco pandemic could be reversed if nicotine is decoupled from lethal inhaled smoke,” he said. “E-cigarettes could provide a means to compete with, and even replace, cigarette use, saving more lives more rapidly than previously possible.”
Another way to quit smoking? Exercise. Running can help reduce the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal, helping smokers stave off their nicotine dependency, according to a December 2017 study.
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